Whither the white working-class?

Posted: 26 September 2012 in Uncategorized
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Of late, I have been making the argument that Obama will win the election, and he’ll win the election without the support of the white working-class.

If that were true, the results of this election would have important long-run implications for the Democratic Party and for political alignments more generally in the United States.

A new survey and report from the Public Religion and Research Institute, entitled “Beyond God and Guns,” is a valuable corrective to many of the stereotypes about the white working-class, including ones I hold and have invoked in discussions with friends and colleagues.

First off, the definition:

this report defines the white working class using a combination of race (white), ethnicity (non-Hispanic), education (less than a 4-year college degree), and occupation pay type (an occupation that pays hourly or by the job and is not salaried).

My own view, for that it’s worth, is that their definition is too restrictive. My preference would be to include some workers who  receive salaries and/or have 4-year college degrees, as long as they don’t work in a supervisory capacity. That would expand the white working-class beyond the one-third (36 percent) of all Americans and more than half (53 percent) of all whites the authors use in their report.

But still the report does serve to puncture five main myths about the white working-class in the United States:

Myth 1. White working-class Americans strongly identify with the Tea Party movement.

White working-class Americans (13 percent) are no more likely than white college-educated Americans (10 percent) to say they consider themselves part of the Tea Party. White working-class Americans (34 percent) are also about equally as likely as white college-educated Americans (31 percent) to say the Tea Party movement shares their values.

Myth 2. White working-class Americans have abandoned traditional religiosity and a strong work ethic.

White working-class Americans are more likely than Americans overall to identify as white evangelical Protestants (36 percent vs. 21 percent). They do not attend religious services less frequently than Americans overall (48 percent vs. 50 percent attend at least once a month), and do not report that religion is less important in their lives (60 percent vs. 59 percent say religion is important in their lives). White working-class Americans also work hard, averaging more hours per week than white college-educated Americans (51 vs. 46).

Myth 3. White working-class Americans vote against their economic interests.

White working-class Americans are more likely than white college-educated Americans to report that a lack of good jobs (67 percent vs. 52 percent) and a lack of opportunities for young people (56 percent vs. 46 percent) are major problems facing their communities. White working-class Americans are also significantly more likely than white college-educated Americans to report that home foreclosures (49 percent vs. 36 percent), crime (32 percent vs. 19 percent), illegal immigration (29 percent vs. 19 percent), and racial tensions (17 percent vs. 9 percent) are major problems facing their communities. In addition, low-income white working-class Americans and white working-class Americans who have received food stamps within the last two years were significantly less likely to support Romney, whose economic plan would reduce funding for government programs like food stamps.

Myth 4. White working-class Americans are animated by culture war issues like abortion or same-sex marriage.

Only 1-in-20 white working-class Americans say that either abortion (3 percent) or same-sex marriage (2 percent) is the most important issue to their vote. By contrast, a majority (53 percent) of white working-class Americans say the economy is their most important voting issue.

Myth 5. White working-class Americans embrace unfettered free market capitalism.

Seven-in-ten (70 percent) white working-class Americans believe the economic system in this country unfairly favors the wealthy, and a majority (53 percent) say that one of the biggest problems in this country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance in life. A plurality (46 percent) of white working-class Americans believe that capitalism and the free market system are at odds with Christian values, while 38 percent disagree. Nearly 8-in-10 white working-class Americans say that corporations moving American jobs overseas are somewhat (25 percent) or very (53 percent) responsible for Americans’ current economic distress. Over 6-in-10 (62 percent) white working-class Americans favor raising the tax rate on Americans with household incomes of over $1 million per year.

As it turns out, Romney’s lead among white working-class voters holds only in the South:

In mid-August, Romney held a commanding 40-point lead over Obama among white working-class voters in the South (62% vs. 22%). However, neither candidate held a statistically significant lead among white working-class voters in the West (46% Romney vs. 41% Obama), Northeast (42% Romney vs. 38% Obama), or the Midwest (36% Romney vs. 44% Obama).

As John Sides notes, “particularly noteworthy in this report are the large and important differences within the white working class—by age, region, gender, and party, to name a few.” Moreover, “political participation remains highly stratified by social class and, moreover, only the views of the upper class appear to affect whether policies are enacted in law.”

His conclusion?

the problem isn’t that the white working class is trending Republican or that it votes against its economic interests or that it’s being hoodwinked by social issues. The problem is that no matter what the white working class thinks, no one is listening.

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Comments
  1. Magpie says:

    Prof.

    As an Australian, I found that report quite interesting.

    I fully understand that, even though Australia is in many senses similar to the US, this is no guarantee that one can blindly translate everything American into our own reality here.

    I also understand that it’s unfair to generalize: people are different. You, for example, although probably “middle class”, seem a decent enough bloke, down to earth, with your feet grounded. I say this with all honesty and with all due respect.

    But I’ve found many of those myths (the Tea Party one excepted) seem present, if not prevalent, among Australian middle-class “progressives” and even among “Marxists”. Particularly those in high-profile roles.

    Here what we see is “progressives” talking about things that are non-issues for people like me: for instance, gay marriage.

    Honestly, I know same sex marriage will not bring the end of the world as we know it. Unlike many others, I am not religious and this subject is not sensitive for me. I’d be pleased if Parliament legalized same sex marriage; but that’s not fundamental to me. And, to be frank, in my experience, it’s not vital for many gay men I know: guys who work in crappy jobs, without any labour stability.

    And yet, any charlatan who calls himself a “progressive” by embracing same sex marriage, automatically gets the support of the middle class “progressives”, on that account alone. To give you an idea: a local millionaire, who just so happens to be a Goldman Sachs partner, is immensely popular because of that.

    What’s worse, the moment a guy like me states their position, without any question, he’s labelled a bigot.

    And things get only worse when one deals with migration. Any call to regulate migration, no matter if one makes it clear that it doesn’t apply to asylum seekers, and doesn’t include any racial/ethnic selection criteria, and that those migrants who are allowed in should be helped, automatically gets you labelled a racist and xenophobe by libertarians and progressives alike. Never mind if one, like me, is a foreigner and a wog.

    I hope you don’t take this personally, because I don’t mean this as directed against you, but these “progressives”, in my opinion, are assholes, every bit as bad as the conservatives they claim to oppose.

  2. habanheroe says:

    36 % of those on foodstamps still vote republican and you are claiming that tehy dont vote agai9nst tehir own economic interest?
    and just becasue you arent on foodstamps doesnt mean you are economically represented by republicans

    sorry you discredited your own claims

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